Elsa Morante--Italian



Elsa Morante


Elsa Morante is best known as a novelist, but she also wrote stories and poetry.  Born in Rome in 1912 her work often centered on the struggles of youth as they came to grip with their place in the adult world.  Morante was married to Italian novelist and film critic Alberto Moravia.  Since both were Jewish they were forced to flee Rome for their lives during the war. During this period she began work on her most famous novel, La storia, which was not published until 1974.  It was also during this period that she started translating the writings of Katherine Mansfield. Her first novel, Menzogna e sortilegioHouse of Liars), published in 1948 won the prestigious Viareggio prize.  Morante died in 1985.  During her lifetime she completed nine novels and works and other narratives, and three collections of poetry.

Sunday Evening

Through the pain of sick wards

and of all prison walls

of barbed-wire camps, of convicts and their keepers,

of ovens Siberias and slaughter-houses

of marches solitudes drunkenness and suicides

and the leaps of conception

the sickly sweet taste of the seed and the dead,

through the innumerable body of pain

theirs and mine,

today I reject reason, majesty

that denies the last grace,

and I spend my Sunday with madness.

Oh pierced prayer of elevation,

I claim for myself the guilt of the offense

in the vile body.

stamp your grace

on my ill-grown mind.  I receive you.


And the small carnage begins again.

The sweat nausea the cold fleshly fingertips the bones’ agony

and the round of wonderful abstractions

in the horror of stripping away flesh.

The usual deadly female peacock called Scheherazade

unfurls her wheel of stabbing pains,

feathers and flowers suddenly petrified

in the giddiness of colors against nature, a lacerating lynching

with sharp stones.  No way out.

The range of the limitless is another prison law

more perverse than any limit.  But still

beyond a glacial era the daily norm

resurfaces at intervals with its poor domestic face

while the blend of nature’s kingdoms

melts the veins in waves like childhood’s first menses

until the lymph is burned away.  The carnal fever is consumed.

conscience now is only a moth beating against the deathly dark

seeking a tread of substance.  Summer is dead.

Farewell farewell destinations addresses popes bestiaries

                                                and numberings,

Villa della Scimmia, Piazza Navonna, Avenue of the Americas.

Farewell measures, directions, five senses.  Farewell slavish duties

            slavish rights slavish judgments.

Take refuge blindly on the other side, hells or limbos, it

                                                Doesn’t matter,

rather than find yourself back in your disgusting domicile

where you’re crushed between walls soiled by painted canvases

recognizable as rags and dust of degraded Sindons.

The floor is a bloody mud boiling again

In the rooms, disintegrating ossuaries, in the last lightning flash

Of a misshapen brass plate, where lemons

Swell to plastic balls.  And from the mirror

With dusty eye-sockets something alien but at the same time

Close, intimate, stares at you, dark fish-scale beyond every


that also denies the skeleton and the whole business

of geneses and epiphanies

of tombs and Easters.  Don’t try the twisted ruinous itinerary

of the stairs, that is for you an ascension of centuries,

and above, below, there is always Hell.

The decayed sky is the low ragged tent

of the earthly leper-house.  And the Mozartian flute is a malign hopping that beats back

all the way into your eye-bulb its trivial mimicry

of an obsessive arithmetic that has no other meaning…

No further sky’s exposed.  The thousand-petaled lotus doesn’t open.

You’re all there is here.  There’s nothing else.

Be present at this.  And stop calling on

dead lovers, dead mothers.

Stripped bare, poorer still than you, they don’t frequent this

or other dimensions.  Their final habitation

remains in your memory alone.


Memory memory, house of pain

where through great rooms and deserted galleries

an uproar of loudspeakers keeps repeating

(the mechanism is bewitched) always the bitter point

of the Eli Eli without an answer.  The shriek of the boy

who leaps blinded by the sacred evil.

The young assassin raving in the mad dormitory.

The cropped Christian litany in the hospital

storeroom, around the old dead Jewess

who pushed away the cross with her small delirious hands.


                                                full of blood,

but the blood itself, all blood, is only spectral vapors

like the mind that bears witness to them.

And when the hours of requiem arrives for  you, it will be like

                                    this through those cries.


The desecrated Sunday declines now

the plague-moons are already sinking

the thorny hedge buds again, your senses chime in five voices.

Hurray again, hurray to meet your usual poor tomorrows,

your usual death-doomed body.

It’s super-time.  Oh hunger for life, feed yourself

again on the daily substance of slaughters.

Be born again to forms to confidences and arbitrary choruses

To consciousness

To health

To the order of dates

To your place.


No Revelation.  (Even if the play is illegal,

it always depends on the collective factory of free will).

No sin (The machine designed for torture

isn’t guilty of the tortures, oh poor sinners).

And no special grace.

(The only common grace is patience

up to the consummation’s amen).

Go away content.  Absolved, absolved, though backsliding.

Good evening, good evening.

This Sunday too is over.


Translated by Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann